Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #187

[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]

Uncanny X-Men, The #187


Now this is more like it. Picking up only minutes after where the overwrought “LifeDeath” left off, Uncanny #187 finds Claremont much more focused than he’s been in a while. Refining the narrative scope to a single event – the Dire Wraiths’ attack on Forge’s home – Claremont, Romita Jr. and Green deliver a solid action-thriller, starring the tough, hardcore Storm who was so conspicuously absent during the saccharine proceedings of the previous issue.

Another welcome addition to the cast is Naze, who manages in the very first panel of his appearance here to make a stronger impression than Forge has after three months. A weathered, rifle-toting Native shaman and the professed foster father of Forge, Naze is a tough-guy in Claremont’s Wolverine style that would have made a great recurring character. Instead, he is sacrificed – possessed by a Wraith -- as part of Claremont’s narrative trick to give a twist to the end of “Wraithkill.” As presented, the narrative sequence is a little muddy; essentially, Naze is possessed by a Wraith, an event which seems to awaken or somehow garner the attention of some other – even worse -- entity. The exact nature of this menace is not specified, but we do get the impression that it is what Naze and Forge were discussing three issues earlier. This is the being that is rending the fabric of reality, and its harbingers appear in the cliffhanger of Uncanny #187. We’re basically seeing Claremont use a classic writer’s trick – a particularly useful one in serial adventure stories – wherein one villain turns out to be a red herring (here, that’s the Wraiths; they’re even the right color), and the hero is confronted with a greater menace waiting in the wings.

The artistic rendering of the last page’s villains – big, amorphous and black – recalls Bill Sienkiewicz’s artistic interpretation of the Demon Bear in New Mutants 18-20, and we are probably meant to recognize that the same entity is responsible for both threats. Claremont is probably being a bit too vague here – especially considering that he won’t get around to the big reveal until “Fall of the Mutants” in 1987.

Still, despite some of the narrative sloppiness, this is Claremont’s most exciting issue of Uncanny X-Men in quite a while. The directness of the story’s premise – Storm fighting her way through demons to get to the top of Forge’s tower – allows for a lot of fun moments, and Claremont paces the issue well, ratcheting up the tension with controlled regularity so that the sudden appearance of Colossus and Rogue makes for a thrilling and surprising climax (much more so than the last time Claremont used this trick, in issue 184).


Anonymous said...

Is this the one where Storm locks the Dire Wraith outside and it freezes to death in the cold? Hardcore! I remember Storm feeling kind of bad about it, showing that even in her "mohawk phase" she's not a killer like Wolverine, just more willing to do it.

So if the Adversary comes to the Marvel Universe in this issue, why does it wait until 1987 to make itself known? I can't remember the details of that aspect of the story too well.

Going back to issue 185...I've been playing catch-up reading these reviews. I liked the comment that Rogue was allowed to be really attractive for the first time in that issue. I think that John Romita Jr. did a great job drawing her...she actually looked like someone you might meet. Paul Smith drew her in a similar way. Then the late 80s and 90s happened, and Rogue was in the hands of artists Marc Silvestri, Jim Lee, and Adam Kubert, all who turned her into a generic swimsuit model-looking kind of gal. There WAS a time in comics where women could look a little more everyday. What happened?

Jason said...

Well, from 1984 to 1987 is only a few months in Marvel time, right? That's probably the best explanation for why the Adversary was quiet for so long. The in-story explanation is that the Adversary considers this whole thing a chess game, and was biding his time to get his "king" and "queen" (Forge and Storm) into their proper places before starting his endgame.

And the external explanation is that "Fall of the Mutants" was initially going to be a sequel to Alan Moore's Jim Jaspers story (hence the chess motif), but at the last minute had to change plans. I can imagine a scenario where Ann Nocenti was the one who suggested that Claremont return to the Forge stuff from Uncanny 186-188 when Jim Jaspers became unusable. (But that's just conjecture on my part.)

I'm an avowed fan of Silvestri, including the way he drew Rogue. But you make a good point about the streamlining of the X-females' looks. In the case of Silvestri, I feel like it was an acceptable trade-off, because Silvestri gave her a lot of bounce and personality.

Anonymous said...

I thought the same thing as you about Naze. He was a great character with alot of potential, but claremont killed him off almost instantly and replaced him by a demon. He did that exact same thing in Excalibur with Courtney Ross.

I always thought this was a weird narrative technique. Why bring in an interesting character, let the audience connect with them, and then kill them and replace them by a monster/alien?

I think you are a little harsh on criticizing Lifedeath. I loved it.

Jason said...

There is, I think -- in a way -- something very brave and/or honest about killing off a character with potential. Particularly in comics, where generally the only characters to be killed off are guys nobody cares about. There is something sort of realistic (in the "superhero comic book" definition of realistic) about someone dying before we get to know them. That is the kind of the death that hurts the most in real life -- the death of someone who seemed to have so much potential that will now never be realized.

As for "Lifedeath," do feel free to go into more detail about what you liked about it. I may be being too harsh, but I will say I have read and re-read it multiple times, and it always fails for me, and always for the same reasons.

wwk5d said...

Actually, Jason, I heard the Jaspers warp (along with the Fury, and maybe Nimrod also) was the original idea for the Mutant Massacre, not FOTM. According to one website, it would've been Marvel's answer to DC's Crisis....